I am so excited to share Everything I've Waited For with you. It's the sixth book in the Woods Lake series and is close to my heart for many reasons. Mel is probably the character who is closest to me.
Content Note: Book contains discussions of a past abusive relationship; health complications that impact fertility, pregnancy loss, and fertility treatment.
Here's chapter one and a sneak peek of chapter two to get you started. (Please note that formatting on the blog preview is slightly different than ebook and paperback versions)
Chapter One - Matt
Ally had gone overboard, getting the guestroom ready for me. It was the room I always stayed in at the house when I visited her and Grandma. When I got in late last night, the door was unlocked, and the porch light was on. I went right up the stairs and into “my room,” something I’d always jokingly referred to it as, but when I got here, I realized it really was mine. There was a note on the nightstand from Joey and Ally and a set of keys. Welcome Home Matt,
These keys are yours forever. This room is yours until we convince you to buy a house in Woods and move here. We purchased new furniture and moved the queen size bed in here. I told Joey if I make the room more comfortable for you, maybe we can convince you to spend the offseason in Woods with us and the rest of the family. It would be fun. We’re close enough to the airport for all your travel. Think about it, and when we finally convince you, Rocky will help you find a good deal when you’re ready to buy. Until then, you fit on the furniture in this room now.
Towels are out in the bathroom. We both work tomorrow, so we will see you when we get home. I’m making lasagna for dinner. Thanks for coming a week early so you can be here for the bachelor/bachelorette party and all the pre-wedding stuff. It will be great to spend time with you before Spring Training.
Sleep in, relax, and enjoy your quiet time. See you when we get home. ~ Ally I crashed hard after weeks of travel and living in hotel rooms. Technically I had an apartment in the Bay Area, but I rarely spent time there. It was my place to sleep during home stretches and when I had to be at the stadium. I spent the offseason traveling. I was in Woods in January for a little over a week for Shauna’s birthday and Marco & Jenna’s wedding. I spent most of February in Australia and New Zealand, finally crossing those places off my travel bucket list. It was nice to be somewhere that felt like home.
The next morning, which was technically early afternoon, I went downstairs after my shower and found my favorite apple cinnamon muffins on the counter and a “Welcome Home” gift from Ally. My favorite mug when I stayed here with Grandma was an oversized ceramic mug with a cork bottom. Ally found a similar one and had it customized with my name on one side and ‘This is Probably Whiskey’ on the other side. She filled it with raw sugar packets, the only thing I ever add to coffee.
I filled my coffee cup, grabbed a muffin, and headed out to the front porch swing with my book. I sent Ally a text message: Me: Thank you for the muffins, coffee mug, sugar packets, and everything you did to get the room ready for me. I appreciate it. Let me know if you’d like me to do anything to prep dinner. I’m just hanging here and relaxing today.
Ally: You’re welcome. I’m so glad you are here early. We can’t wait to spend time with you. Joey will be home a little after six. I’m off at three, but I have a meeting with my sub to go over everything. I’m not sure how long that’s going to take. My friend Mel is coming to dinner tonight because she’s helping me with centerpieces for the tables. She might get there before me. I told her you’d be there. Me: Okay, sounds great. After I read for a few hours, I headed into the kitchen to prepare the salad. I knew that Ally always made a salad to go with lasagna dinner and figured it was the least I could do. I thought about setting the table for four, but I knew that Ally and her friend would work on centerpieces, and I wasn’t sure if they were doing that before or after dinner. Right as I finished the salad, the doorbell rang. I answered it, saying, “You must be Ally’s friend, Mel,” before I looked at her. As soon as I saw her, my heart skipped a beat, and my stomach flipped. She was gorgeous. She was about nine inches shorter than me, so I figured about five-foot-six. She had long dark brown hair heavily highlighted with light brown and blonde highlights. She stumbled over her words as she spoke. “Yeah, I’m Mel, and you’re Joey’s cousin, Matt, the best pitcher in the Major League. I’m a little starstruck.” She set her bag on the table in the entryway, took her sweater off, and hung it on a hook. I had to stop myself from staring at her. I was utterly captivated by her. “Thank you for the compliment. I don’t consider myself the best pitcher, but I know others do. I’m just a guy who gets to play his favorite childhood sport until I’m too old to do it. Can I get you something to drink? Ally said she’d be home after her meeting.” “That would be great. Thanks, Matt.” She followed me to the kitchen. “What would you like? They have almost every flavor of water. We can open a bottle of wine, or I can make you a cocktail.” “It has been a long day of stressful meetings. I’ll have wine or a cocktail, but only if you’ll join me.” She sat at the barstool at the counter as she spoke. “What’s your preference, whiskey or wine?” “Tough choice. I like both. You pick.” “Do you like Cabernet Sauvignon?” She smiled as she spoke. “Other than a Bordeaux, it’s my favorite.” I leaned across the island and gazed into her eyes. “I think I just fell in love. No one ever knows what a Bordeaux is.” She laughed. “I’ve never met a guy who knows anything about wine. You’re sweet, but we both know that a famous baseball player is not going to fall for someone like me.” I tilted my head slightly and looked at her questioningly. “What do you mean someone like you?” “I’m plain and ordinary. I’m a teacher. I’m not a model. I’m not short, but also not tall. I don’t have a super-model figure, and famous baseball players don’t fall for ordinary girls; they fall for the drop-dead gorgeous girls.” “This baseball player thinks you’re gorgeous and far from ordinary. This baseball player isn’t a stick-thin stereotypical baseball player and has never dated anyone like you just described. Mel, look at me.” She slowly raised her eyes to mine. I reached my hand out and tilted her chin to maintain eye contact. “You are gorgeous. As soon as I saw you when I opened the door, my heart skipped a beat, and my stomach flipped. I’ve never reacted like that to anyone. It’s obvious that you haven’t heard this much, so I’m going to repeat it. Mel, you are gorgeous, and anyone who hasn’t seen that before is an idiot.” I released her chin from my hand. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to get a bottle of wine.” When I returned to the kitchen, Mel had grabbed two glasses and had started working on a cheese plate. She looked up when I entered the room. “Ally sent me a text, she’s just wrapping up her meeting and will be home in about an hour, and Joey got stuck at work late, so he’ll be home closer to seven. She asked us to put together veggies, cheese, and crackers for an appetizer while lasagna cooks. She’ll put the lasagna in the oven when she gets home since she’s not sure how long Joey will be and hopes we don’t mind eating a little late.” “I don’t mind a later dinner and already made the salad this afternoon. What else can I do to help?” “You can set the table while I make this, and then we can enjoy it while we wait for them.” I noticed that Mel gave me eye contact more frequently now, so that was a good sign. After I set the table, I opened the bottle of wine and poured us each a glass. “Mel, do you want to sit here and visit or the porch?” Her eyes lit up when she spoke. “Porch. It’s such a nice day. It doesn’t feel like the beginning of March. I know it’s going to be cold again, so we should enjoy the break in the winter weather while we can.” I took my wine and the plate to the porch, and she joined me on the swing. “Tell me about yourself, Mel. I know that you’re a teacher and you work with Ally. Are you the same Mel that she went to college with?” Mel looked surprised that I knew this. “Yeah, I am. We graduated from high school together, but Ally was only here for the last semester of our senior year. We didn’t become friends until we both did the same scholarship program in college. The school we work for now paid for college in exchange for us committing to work there for four years.” “Are you a classroom teacher, or do you do something else, like Ally?” “I’m a classroom teacher. I teach our primary classroom for students with complex communication needs. They have a range of other disabilities ranging from physical impairments, cognitive disabilities, or a medical diagnosis in addition to complex communication needs. They all use communication devices. The purpose of my classroom is to meet their educational needs and increase their independence in using their device so they can transition to their school of residence or into another classroom. I co-teach the class with our school’s Speech-Language Pathologist.” My eyes locked on Mel’s as she spoke. I noticed that her face lit up when she talked about her work. I could tell that she loved what she did. “What grade is your primary classroom?” “Kindergarten through second grade. My kindergarten students are only there half day. The rest are with me a full day.” “I didn’t know classrooms like that existed, Mel. How did you decide to teach that type of classroom?” She had just finished taking a sip of wine. “First, side note, this wine is one of the best I’ve ever had.” “I picked it up on my trip to Australia. I spent the last month traveling in New Zealand and Australia. I toured a few wineries and brought back a few that I loved. This was one of my favorites.” Her beautiful light brown eyes widened. “Wow! Thank you for sharing it with me.” “You’re welcome.” She turned slightly on the porch swing to face me and tucked one leg under the other, so she was sitting on it. She took another sip of the wine, and I couldn’t stop myself from staring at her lips as the top lip ran across the bottom before she spoke. “To answer your question, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher and that I wanted to work with students with communication needs. My older sister had cerebral palsy and used a communication device. Growing up, she was always in a special classroom. No one knew how to work with her or use her device. I love my classroom because most of my students are only with me for a year or two, and then they transition to their school of residence and get to go to school in their neighborhood. I have some students who remain in specialized programs, but our goal is always to get students into the general education classrooms with their peers for at least the majority of their day. I’m fortunate that the school has this program and local districts partner with it because it’s pretty unique, and I wish more students had this opportunity.” “That program sounds incredibly unique and sounds like a great experience for students. I’m sure your sister is proud of you for committing your life to this because of what you saw her experience.” Her eyes watered a bit. “She’s not with us anymore, but I like to think she’s watching over me and is happy for me.” I reached my hand out and placed it on hers. “I’m sure she is.” I held my hand on hers for longer than I should have, but she didn’t move her hand from mine, and I didn’t want to remove my hand. I wanted to lean forward and kiss her, but I stopped myself.
“Tell me about your trip to Australia and New Zealand. Those are two places on my bucket list. I have no idea when I’ll get there, but I’m going to one day.” “You like to travel?” She finished her wine and set the glass down before responding. “I love to travel. I work our summer school program to fund my summer travel, and I always do something over our fall and spring breaks.” “What’s your next trip?” I love to travel and explore new places, and I rarely have anyone to travel with, so I wanted to hear her stories. “No, you have to tell me about your last trip first. Tell me about Australia.” I noticed that she had scooted closer to me on the swing. “I spent ten days in New Zealand and then two weeks in Australia. When I travel, I try to pick a handful of must-see things that I know I would be disappointed to miss, and then I spend the rest of my time seeing things locals recommend. The owner of the property I stayed on at the beginning of my trip gave me great recommendations for beaches and hikes. I like restaurants that are where locals eat. I love to travel like a local versus just checking off lists of places in a tour book. I did the same thing in Australia. Of course, I saw all the big tourist stuff, but then I turned my focus to the smaller, lesser-known areas, and those are things I end up looking back on as my favorites.” I pulled my phone out and showed her some of my favorite pictures. “Most of my favorite places are hole-in-the-wall local hangouts and places I discover on hikes. I typically don’t rent a car when I travel. I walk a lot or use public transportation. I find that when you explore a city like a local, you end up with a better trip. I have more photos on my camera. I’ll have to show you later.” “I’d love it.” “Your turn. What’s your next trip or your last trip?” “I spent New Year’s in Aspen with my cousins. We rented a cabin. I don’t ski, but they all do. I liked exploring the area. My next trip is to be determined. We have a week for spring break next month, and I haven’t decided what I’m doing yet. I sort of want a warm beach vacation, but part of me wants to go explore a new city.” “When’s your break?” “The week before Easter.” “You should go to Texas for spring break.” “Why on Earth would I go to Texas? I can’t think of anything I want to see in Texas.” “I’ll be there,” I said mischievously. She laughed. “Is this your way of asking me to come to one of your games over my break?” “No, this is my way of asking you to come to six of my games over your break. We have three games in Arlington, two days off, and then three games against Houston. Come explore two cities with me. I’ll have time most of the days, plus days off between for travel.” “I’ll think about it, and I’ll let you know my decision after the wedding. Sound good?” “Sounds good.” I wanted her to come to Texas, and I was going to try to convince her to. Ally pulled into the driveway, followed almost immediately by Joey. “Sorry, don’t hate me. The meeting with my sub took a lot longer than I anticipated, but I’m all set to not be back until after the wedding,” Ally called out to us from her car as she grabbed her bag from the backseat. I stood and walked down the steps toward the driveway. “Don’t worry about it. We were fine. Let me get that. What else do you need me to grab?” She passed her work bag and a backpack to me, “Nothing. This is everything. Can you set it in the office?” “Of course. I opened wine. Do you want a glass?” “No, thank you. Thanks for the offer, though.” I took her bags to the office and then grabbed the bottle of wine from the kitchen. I carried it out to the porch and poured more for Mel and me. After Joey and Ally changed, they joined us on the porch. “I saw that someone made the salad, and you set the table, thanks,” Ally said after she sat down. “You’re welcome. I made salad this afternoon, and I set the table while Mel was slicing veggies and cheese. What else can I help with?” I responded. “Nothing. I prepped the lasagna last night, so I just had to put it in the oven. I wasn’t expecting to be this late. I’m glad you two were able to entertain yourselves.” She turned and looked at Mel. “Will you hate me if I say I’m too tired to do centerpiece ribbons tonight?” Mel laughed. “Not at all. We can do them this weekend. It won’t take very long since it’s just tying ribbons on the vases. I can sit and do it while watching a movie or something. I’ll take it home and do it. Are the ribbons cut?” “The ribbons are cut. Joey cut them for me last night.” I jumped in, “I can tie all the ribbons sitting here. It won’t long.” I got up, “I’ll be right back.” I saw the box of vases on the counter in the laundry room earlier today. I grabbed it and the basket of ribbons. I walked back out to the porch. “I can tie a bow. Joey can tie a bow. We can do this, and the two of you can visit and relax.” “No, that’s why I’m here. We can do this, and Joey and Ally can finish dinner,” Mel said as she touched my hand. Joey guided Ally off his lap and onto her feet. “That’s perfect. You two tie ribbons, and we will finish dinner.” After Joey and Ally went in the house, Mel turned to me and asked, “If I say yes to Texas, how would it work?” “You’d fly to Texas. I’d make sure you had a room at the same hotel I’m at in both cities. We can sightsee when I don’t have to be at something with the team. I’ll get you a ticket to each game. Are you seriously considering it?” “Maybe,” she said with a smile. “Can I take you on a real date between now and the wedding to help you decide?” She set down the vase she had finished tying and turned her head to look at me. “Okay. I’m busy tomorrow night because it’s one of my best friend’s bachelorette parties. Other than that, and work next week, I’m available until the wedding.” “Be careful, Mel. I might take all your free time.” “I’d be okay with that, Matt.” I took her chin in my hand as I had in the kitchen. I spoke each word slowly, “I want all the time you’ll give me.” She reached her hand forward and put it gently on my cheek, slowly moving her fingers across my beard. “I’ll give you all my time, Matt.” I leaned forward and kissed her, gently brushing my lips against hers. I kept the kiss short and gentle even though I wanted to deepen the kiss. I wanted to pick her up and carry her upstairs and do a lot more than kiss, but this wasn’t something I was going to rush. “I know the plan for tomorrow for everyone. Do the girls have anything planned on Sunday?” “No.” “You live here in town, right?” She nodded slowly. “I do. Practically around the corner. What are you thinking?” “Can I pick you up at ten? I’ll make reservations for brunch in the city, and then we can play it by ear.” “Sounds like a great idea, Matt.” She reached for my phone and handed it to me. “If you unlock it, I’ll give you my number.” After she put her number in my phone, she sent herself a text, so she’d have mine. I slid my phone into my pocket when she handed it to me. I noticed her type something after receiving a text and then felt my phone vibrate, so I knew she had sent me a message. Ally’s voice filled the air, “Dinner’s ready. Thanks for starting those.” I looked up at Ally and said, “I just finished the last one.” I put the vases back in the box and carried them into the house. Once I set the box in the laundry room, I took my phone out of my pocket and looked at Mel's text. Mel: Best first kiss ever. I smiled when I saw it and wrote back. Me: Agreed. I debated it because we just met, but I wanted to kiss you when I was leaning across the kitchen island talking to you. I wanted to kiss you again a few times while we were talking. I figured a gentle kiss was the perfect first kiss. Mel: It was perfect, and for the record, I wanted you to kiss me when you were leaning across the kitchen island.
Chapter 2 - Mel
I was only half paying attention to the pool game. Lucy leaned over and quietly asked, “Who is he?”
I slid my phone into my back pocket. “I don’t know what you’re talking about it.”
“Come on. I’ve known you since we were in Kindergarten. Who is he?”
I shook my head. I wasn’t ready to say anything yet. “We just met. It’s not anything yet.”
“Yet is a good sign, though. It’s been a long time, girl. I’m here when you want to talk.”
Lucy was the best listener. She always had been. She was the party girl all through middle school and high school. She partied her way through her parent’s divorce and then her mom’s disappearance. No matter how chaotic her life was, she was always a good friend. She was super popular all through school, and I was the nerdy girl. We shouldn’t have been friends, but we were and had been since we were five.
We both ended up with friendships with Ally in college. Me, because Ally and I were in the same scholarship program. Lucy, because Ally and Joey were dating, and Lucy and Tony were dating. The three of us became great friends, and Ally’s friendship with Jenna and Shauna expanded my social circle, which had practically been non-existent before then, and a few months ago, Lexie joined my circle. A non-existent social life is what happens when you spend almost six years in a relationship with a controlling monster who doesn’t let you have friends.
Ally caught me in la-la-land. “Earth to Melanie; it’s your turn.”
“Sorry, I was just thinking.” I didn’t finish my sentence with about the best first kiss ever, but I wanted to.
Shauna looked at me across the pool table. “I know that look. I’ve had that look. We have all had that look. Who is he?”
I shook my head as I spoke, “No one. Nine-ball, corner pocket.” I lined up the shot and made it.
After I missed my next shot, Ally leaned over to me and whispered, “Did my late meeting work?”
I felt my cheeks blush, and a smile spread across my face. I nodded while I whispered, “Best first kiss ever.”
I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket.
Matt: How’s your pool game? My poker game sucks because I’m too distracted thinking about kissing you.
Me: My pool game usually is top-notch. I’m at about 75% tonight.
Matt: I’m already out of the poker game.
Me: We are playing our last game and then heading back to the house for movies, mocktails, and desserts.
Matt: Why mocktails?
Me: Jenna and Lexie are pregnant. Lucy doesn’t drink anymore, and Ally has always been a one-drink girl.
Matt: There’s still wine from last night. You can finish it.
Me: You’re sweet, thank you.
Matt: By the way, I need your address so I can pick you up tomorrow.
Me: Do you know where Jesse and Lexie live?
Me: I live across the street. I rent the tiny bungalow in the back of the main house.
Matt: I will see you tomorrow at ten unless you’re still at the house when I get back tonight. Have fun tonight.
Me: See you tomorrow morning. Have fun and try to focus on the game.
Matt: Can’t, too busy thinking about kissing you again.
Me: Stop thinking about it and do something about it, Matt.
Matt: Is that an invitation to crash your girls’ night?
Me: No, but it is a promise that I’ll stay at the house until you get home tonight. I live around the corner, and I walked to the house. I’m not walking home by myself. Want to walk with me?
Matt: No, it’s too cold to walk home that late. I’ll drive you home and walk you to your door.
Me: Even better.
The guys walked into the house just after midnight. Ally had fallen asleep just after eleven, and everyone else left shortly after. I had just finished cleaning when Joey and Matt walked in the door.
“Hey guys, how was poker?”
“Fun, I won, and Matt was out first. Then he spent most of the night completely distracted by texting. Not sure who that could have been.” Joey smiled as he said it. “Where is my beautiful bride to be?”
“Asleep on the couch,” I replied as I finished putting glasses in the cupboard.
“I’m going to carry her to bed and then crash. Matt, I will see you tomorrow. Mel, we are hosting family dinner this week, so if you’d like to join us, you can. People start showing up around four, and dinner is at six.”
“I’d love that. What can I bring?”
“It’s favorites night, so everyone is bringing their favorite dish to share.”
“Okay, it sounds fun. Thanks, Joey.”
Matt drove me home and walked me to my door. I unlocked my door and stepped into the doorway. “Thanks for the ride home. Do you want to come in?”
He paused and lightly stroked his beard the way I’d noticed him do before when he was debating something.
“Matt, what’s wrong?” I quietly asked. Is he second-guessing our date tomorrow? Is he trying to figure out how to tell me he’s changed his mind?
“Nothing’s wrong. I’m just debating on if coming in is a good idea.”
“Why wouldn’t it be?”
“If you let me in, I’m not going to want to leave. I should probably say goodnight and pick you up tomorrow morning.” He leaned forward and gently kissed me.
I loved the way his beard felt against my skin and how the edge of his mustache tickled my lip. I reached my hand out and traced my finger along the edge of his jawline. I felt his hand on the small of my back, gently guiding me to him. He deepened our kiss and slowly traced my lips with his tongue. I parted and let him in. I stepped forward a half step, triggering him to pull me in closer to him.